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Sword of Zen

Sword of Zen: Master Takuan and His Writings on Immovable Wisdom and the Sword Tale

Peter Haskel
Copyright Date: 2013
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  • Book Info
    Sword of Zen
    Book Description:

    Takuan Sōho's (1573-1645) two works on Zen and swordsmanship are among the most straightforward and lively presentations of Zen ever written and have enjoyed great popularity in both premodern and modern Japan. Although dealing ostensibly with the art of the sword,Record of Immovable WisdomandOn the Sword Taieare basic guides to Zen-"user's manuals" for Zen mind that show one how to manifest it not only in sword play but from moment to moment in everyday life.Along with translations ofRecord of Immovable WisdomandOn the Sword Taie(the former, composed in all likelihood for the shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu and his fencing master, Yagyū Munenori), this book includes an introduction to Takuan's distinctive approach to Zen, drawing on excerpts from the master's other writings. It also offers an accessible overview of the actual role of the sword in Takuan's day, a period that witnessed both a bloody age of civil warfare and Japan's final unification under the Tokugawa shoguns. Takuan was arguably the most famous Zen priest of his time, and as a pivotal figure, bridging the Zen of the late medieval and early modern periods, his story (presented in the book's biographical section) offers a rare picture of Japanese Zen in transition.For modern readers, whether practitioners of Zen or the martial arts, Takuan's emphasis on freedom of mind as the crux of his teaching resonates as powerfully as it did with the samurai and swordsmen of Tokugawa Japan. Scholars will welcome this new, annotated translation of Takuan's sword-related works as well as the host of detail it provides, illuminating an obscure period in Zen's history in Japan.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-3723-5
    Subjects: History, Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. 1 An Introduction to Takuan’s Writings on Zen and Swordsmanship
    (pp. 1-32)

    Like many Zen priests of his day, Takuan was a literary as well as a religious figure. Besides extensive correspondence and quantities of poems in both Chinese and Japanese, the master produced a number of independent prose works inkana majiri(mixed kana and Chinese characters), the majority, according to Tsuji Zennosuke, probably composed for particular daimyo patrons.¹ The most widely read of these writings, apart from the two works on swordsmanship, areNight Talks at Tōkaiji (Tōkaiji yawa)andKnotted Cords (Ketsujōshū), and a third work,Tinkling Gems (Reirōshū).² While occasionally touching on Zen, all three are essentially miscellanies,...

  6. 2 Translations
    (pp. 33-57)

    The ignorance of attachment as the ground of delusion (mumyō jūji bonnō). The term “ignorance” is made up of the characters for “no light”—that is to say, delusion. The term “attachment” is made up of characters meaning “to stop” and “stage.” In the practice of Buddhism, there are the fifty-two stages,¹ among which attachment indicates the way the mind stops at things. “To stop” refers to attaching the mind to things, of whatever sort. Applied to Your Lordship’s² art of swordsmanship,³ [this means that] the moment your attention is drawn to the slashing blade of your opponent, you rush...

  7. 3 Happenings in a Dream
    (pp. 58-124)

    Takuan’s life, like the difficult times in which he came of age, was marked by periods of considerable turbulence and uncertainty, and, though a dedicated Zen monk with a penchant for seclusion and rural retreat, the master encountered the sorts of extreme shifts in fortune common to many of the leading secular figures of the day. This experience surely shaped his view of the transitory, unreal nature of things and of the folly of attachment. “So long as those of us in this world consider that we have come as guests,” Takuan reflects in his miscellanyKnotted Cords, “we will...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 125-170)
  9. Bibliography
    (pp. 171-176)
  10. Index
    (pp. 177-182)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 183-187)